Where to buy plants

Finding the best flowers for your dollar

Are you ready to get gardening? Springtime's here and it's time for all gardeners to grab the newest and best blooms for their flowerbeds. Some go to garden centers, some go to big chain department stores, and some log onto their computers to see what they can find there. If you're a new gardener and are confused, knowing where you can go to find your inspiration and plants is half the battle. You won't have to worry about standing, shaking in a crowded garden center (okay, maybe not) when you know what to do.

Garden Centers

These are obviously the first place that gardeners go to find the newest plants and best tools, but they can be scary places for people that don't know where to start looking. If you choose to buy your plants at a local or big garden center, ensure that it's clean and well-run. These tips should help:

  • Check the quality of the plants for sale. Are they relatively healthy? Do they show signs of pests or disease? Do they have easy-to-read, informative labels? A good garden center has a decent, healthy selection of all sorts of plants, from annuals to perennials to rarer plants and shrubs.
  • Is the staff helpful and knowledgeable? Garden centers should have at least one educated horticulturalist and a good network of well-trained staff to answer all your botanical questions.
  • Is the place well-kept? Do they provide carts or nursery wagons for you to carry your purchases? How wide are the aisles? Is there evidence of mice or rats?

Many good garden centers will provide display gardens, statuary, water features and other accessories at fairly reasonable prices. Higher-end stores may have higher prices, but the quality and selection will be excellent. Many garden centers will ship plants for a reasonable price, as well. If you're looking for quality and selection close to home, a garden center is your best bet.

Big Chain Department or Grocery Stores

These are not the best places to buy plants, not because the selection isn't good, but because the care tends to be patchy at best. Sometimes, you'll find that the plants are overwatered; sometimes, they'll be dry and diseased. Discount stores get their plants from large growing operations that mass-grow them as seedlings, then ship them out. Sometimes, you can find some nice, low-priced annuals and other discount flowers for a container garden, but if you're looking for quality, the best place to go is a garden center.

Online Garden Centers

Many people buy seeds and plants online because the selection is virtually limitless. It's easy to sit at your computer and envision your garden taking shape before your eyes, but don't get too dazzled by all your options and spend all your money! Online retailers are very good, but make a garden plan first so that you'll buy only what you need. You should take these tips into consideration when choosing an online retailer:

  • What kind of shipping options do they offer? The low prices of an online garden center can be deceptive if you have to pay a lot in shipping. Sometimes, online retailers won't ship to a certain state or province, so do your homework and always ask if you aren't sure.
  • Check their payment options and ensure that they have a secure payment process.
  • What does their site look like? Is it well-designed and easy to use? If you're not sure about the retailer, ask for some references from other buyers. Most sites are happy to provide testimonials. If you can, ask others on forums and communities where they purchase their seeds and plants. People are normally a lot more honest about retailers online!
  • Check their fine print – many online garden centers have certain rules about plant returns, exchanges and substitutions. If you don't want the store to substitute plants in your order, state that clearly on your order form. Also keep a record of your payments and orders in case of dispute.
  • Make sure you know about the laws governing organic shipping in your state, province or country. Canada has some of the strictest plant and animal shipping laws around, and different states have different rules as to what can be shipped, what's endangered, and what's dangerous to the ecosystem. The customs officials will burn any plants that aren't allowed into the area, so you'll lose that money.
  • Order early to be sure to avoid "sold out" notices!